The Changing Face of the World, with or without Plastic Surgery

1341534683_634ca4e8e2_mIn 2011, when National Geographic reported on the global population reaching 7 billion, it determined that the “most typical” person in the world is a 28-year-old Han Chinese male.

But that doesn’t mean that the East Asian look is the most popular. Many Asians, such as those in South Korea, are using cosmetic surgery to gain a more Westernized appearance. While Americans have the most plastic-surgery procedures each year, on a per-capita basis, South Korea comes out on top, with 16 procedures per 1,000 people in 2010. Here is the complete list of the top-10 countries:

  1. South Korea
  2. Greece
  3. Italy
  4. Brazil
  5. Colombia
  6. US
  7. Taiwan
  8. Japan
  9. France

In South Korea, as in many East Asian countries, popular procedures—aimed toward an idealized Western appearance—include narrowing and sharpening the nose, adding double creases to eyelids, lightening skin, slimming round faces, and reducing calf size.

But using surgery to chase the features of another culture carries “complex psycho-social implications,” says Mario Dini, director of the University of Florence’s School of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery. “A foreign patient who wants to westernize their face, which is universally considered ‘successful,’” he tells La Stampa, “hopes that the scalpel will change their culture too—but this isn’t possible.”

Anthropologist and journalist, Geneviève Makaping, from Cameroon, agrees:

The risk of unconditionally accepting to operate on patients and respond “yes” to all of their requests is to leave them in a cultural limbo. The people who want to erase, or minimize, their physical origins usually aren’t completely assimilated with Westerners, and are turned away from their own social groups who criticize and stigmatize this choice because they feel their faces are being discriminated against.

Of course, global norms and ideals continue to change. Watch this National Geographic video  and you’ll see that by 2030, the most typical person will be from India.

Given time, though, due to  intermarrying across cultures, we all my end up looking like Brazilians. Stephen Stearns, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at Yale, tells LiveScience that since the invention of the bicycle the distance between potential spouses has continually increased. Bring in paved roads, automobiles, and airplanes, and our wold has become even smaller when it comes to finding a mate. This means that recessive traits will become fewer and fewer, and other traits that separate us now will blend together. What will this look like? In a few hundred years, according to Stearns, it will look Brazilian.

But why stop at a few hundred years? What about in 100,000 years? Artist Nickolay Lamm teamed up with Alan Kwan, a computational genomicist, to illustrate what they think future humans might look like. Published two weeks ago at, Lamm’s renderings show features brought on by increased brain size and life in space colonies. Maybe those old movie images of aliens with large foreheads and oversized eyes were on to something.


(“A Cut Above,” The Economist, April 23, 2012, using information from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; Rosalba Miceli, “Plastic Surgery as a Way to Look Less ‘Ethnic’—and Get Ahead?” Worldcrunch, April 15, 2013, translated from “La chirurgia plastica ‘etnica’ può cancellare i pregiudizi razziali?” La Stampa, April 2, 2013; Natalie Wolchover, “Will Humans Eventually All Look like Brazilians?” LiveScience, September 18, 2012; Nickolay Lamm, “What Will Humans Look Like in 100,000 Years?What’s Hot, MyVoucherCodes, June 7, 2013)

[photo: “Eyes,” by XracZ, used under a Creative Commons license; illustration by Nickolay Lamm, used with permission]


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